The Nashville Metro Council voted for the third and final time on a measure that would give Nashville Police the option of issuing someone a $50 fine for possessing up to a half ounce of marijuana, rather than arresting the person. Per Tennessee state law, possession is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $250 fine for the first offense. I’m happy to say that the vote in Nashville last night went favorably, as the Metro Council members voted 35-3 to approve the measure. Per The Tennessean:
Nashville’s pot legislation now heads to the desk of Mayor Megan Barry, who told The Tennessean this week she would sign the measure into law.
“This legislation is a positive step forward in addressing the overly punitive treatment of marijuana possession in our state that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority residents,” Barry said in a statement after the council’s vote.
The mayor had previously been noncommittal on the measure, but has said she is “generally supportive” of efforts to decriminalize marijuana.
The historic vote has led to some concerns among judges that because these cases will be civil cases and not criminal ones, that it will be harder for people to get it off their record. When someone is fined the $50, it creates a public record. Whether or not the judges concerns are valid is yet to be seen, but either way, the sponsor of the decriminalization measure has stated that if it becomes a problem, he will introduce a measure to fix it.
Another concern that has been raised by activists is about the discretionary part. History has shown that when law enforcement is given enforcement options, they tend to disproportionately apply harsher punishments to minorities. That has been the case in other metro areas, and hopefully will not be an issue in Nashville, but only time will tell. I’m hopeful that after some time goes by that the new law will be amended to include the original language of the measure, which makes a fine automatic and an arrest not an option.
One other concern that people should be aware of is that Tennessee law still lists possession of up to a half ounce as a crime, punishable by jail time a heftier fine. It is yet to be seen if there will be a legal challenge from Tennessee to try to stop the new Nashville law from being implemented. That’s what happened after the City of Wichita voted to decriminalize marijuana possession and the State of Kansas successfully sued to block implementation. I haven’t heard any rumors of an imminent legal challenge, but the passage of the measure is still fresh, so we shall see.
Memphis is looking at passing a similar measure, and given how much support there was for the Nashville measure, I think Memphis has a great chance of following suit. Kudos to the Council members that voted for this measure, and boo to the few Council members that chose to cling to failed public policy. The new law in Nashville isn’t perfect, and improvements will hopefully come soon, but this is still a historic vote worth celebrating. Congrats Nashville!